The emotional pull of a hometown can be a powerful one, especially in the Boston suburb where I grew up. “There’s just something about Norwood” many Norwoodites say, and a recent experience back home is testament to that thinking.
My realtor mother recently sold the home of my great aunt Angie, who moved in to this house in 1950 with my uncle and cousin, when it was brand new, freshly built. It was the post World War II boom and Harry Truman was president. My aunt died just a few weeks shy of her 98th birthday, and owned that house for more than sixty years. Even though the house was just sold, my aunt didn’t die recently, but rather in 2010, and her daughter held on to the house. It’s a Norwood thing.
About five or so years before her death my aunt moved in with her daughter, my mom’s cousin, out of state so the house really hadn’t been lived in for more than a decade. A visit from them now and then, perhaps a maintenance person or my mother checking on things, made up the only traffic going in and out. The house was well maintained, and certainly didn’t look uninhabited, though my kids thought what my mom and I saw as nostalgic and comforting, was creepy and they wouldn’t go inside. “But your aunt is dead, Dad” I would hear.
My mom’s cousin wanted to keep the house because “I might move back there someday.” Her husband, children and grandchildren are all a few hundred miles away, so we knew that would never happen, but it’s a Norwood thing to say you’ll come back. I still get asked when I’m moving back to the 02062.
My great aunt was a truly great aunt, a great lady. Angelina was born to hard working Italian immigrants, who didn’t have much money. Her mother died suddenly when she was young, so my aunt had to raise the other kids and run the household. Later she worked at the Plimpton Press in Norwood as a bookbinder. Her father died shortly after that and then she lost her baby brother, my grandfather, in a freak bee attack.
Growing up, there wasn’t a family event I can remember that my aunt didn’t go to. Her house was right around the corner from the one where I grew up, so we saw her pretty regularly.
After my uncle died, I would sometimes help with the lawn, shoveling snow or things around the house, and she always insisted on cooking me a dinner when I was done, usually steak, served early, like around 4 o’clock. Years later, my mom moved in for a few months and my aunt, in her 80s then, insisted on doing my mom’s laundry and making dinner every night. At 4, of course.
At almost 91, my aunt walked down the aisle at my wedding and a few years later shot pool at my brownstone in Hartford over Thanksgiving.
My aunt’s house was a classic 1950’s home, that was virtually unchanged over the years and that’s what we loved about it. It was a time warp and had exuded a comfortable feeling. The basement with the pineboard walls and pink counters were right out of Mad Men and I’m told it looked the same as when my mom would visit there as a kid. My mom says the oven, washer and dryer are all original. And they work.
In the years since my aunt died, the house became more of a burden to my cousin. As it sat idle, the odds of it needing repairs were growing so after more than a decade of dormancy the emotional decision was made to sell the old place. My mom, a longtime realtor in town, sold it by word of mouth before she could put it on the market.
It took ten days for my mom to go through nearly 70 years of stuff. I came to help out and we found all sorts of remarkable things like petrified steak in the freezer with expiration dates from 2005 and a state representative campaign sign for a politician I hung out with when we were teenagers. There was a newspaper from 2000, a television set from the 1970s, tons of family pictures and an occasional cool find like a prayer card from my grandfather’s funeral. In 1953! On the fridge was a 1990’s WFSB magnet.
My cousin told me to take a few things from the house, so I did; some old rattan chairs that were brand new in 1950 and an antique small desk that my aunt would put her mail on. Kara and I now put our mail on it.
That house has a great energy. A millennial bought the place with plans to gut it and make it his own. He can rip out the pink tiles and burn wood in the fireplace that was never ever used, but the memories of Aunt Angie’s house in Norwood will never go away.